How do consumers make travel decisions – from inspiration to booking?

Browsing across multiple screens has become the new normal for everyday life – so that performing just one task on one device at a time seems positively old-fashioned. We browse social media and shop online on our smartphones while watching TV. We watch videos on our tablets during our lunch break, then look up a related topic on our desktop when we get back to our desks.

This cross-device experience is changing how consumers approach researching and booking travel. Now instead of calling a travel agent or airline to book directly, we have access to a wealth of online information to help us choose destinations, compare prices, make reservations and get long distance moving services more easily from sites like demonstrates that consumers spend a significant amount of time planning travel on multiple devices before making a purchase. An Expedia study shows that travel bookers may make hundreds of visits to travel sites in the weeks leading up to a purchase.

And while smartphones are gaining in popularity for travel research, the majority of travelers still prefer to book using a desktop or laptop. According to an article in Tnooz, a publication about the travel tourism industry:

  • 41% of travelers research travel using mobile devices (smartphone or tablet)
  • 55% of travelers prefer to book using a desktop or laptop, even if they research using mobile
  • 25-34 year olds are the most active on mobile, with 38% of total users booking on mobile

Travel Booking, Step by Step

When travelers are visiting many sites across several devices before booking, it can be difficult to track how they make purchasing decisions. Google partnered with Ipsos MediaCT, a marketing research company, to commission The 2014 Traveler’s Road to Decision study to better understand this process. It interviewed a sample of 5,000 consumers (3,500 leisure and 1,500 business) who have traveled at least once for personal reasons or three times for business purposes in the past six months.

The study shows that travelers rely heavily on the cross-device experience, and that there are opportunities for brands to engage with them throughout the booking process:

  • Consumers generally start researching online before deciding where or when to travel (65% leisure; 69% business)
  • Friends, family and colleagues are nearly equal (62%) to online sources (65%) when it comes to travel inspiration
  • Search engines (83%) and social networks (61%) are top online sources of travel inspiration
  • Travelers are active on YouTube, with 3 in 5 leisure and 2 in 3 business travelers visiting to pursue passion points
  • Many leisure travelers go into planning undecided on a specific brand; only 23% are absolutely decided on air travel, and 16% on lodging
  • Smartphones are often used for travel inspiration in “snacking moments” before planning, such as spare moments while waiting or commuting (69%) or while doing other activities like watching TV or eating (56%)
  • 48% of those who use smartphones for leisure travel inspiration ultimately book through some other method
  • 75% of leisure travelers switch between devices to plan or book
  • 83% of leisure travelers have encountered a travel site that was not optimized for mobile; only 23% of those who have encountered a mobile site that wasn’t optimized followed through with booking

The biggest takeaway for marketers is that the research phase of travel planning is a big opportunity to reach consumers. Travelers turn to online search, social media and travel videos early in the process – and they’re open to considering multiple brands across categories (hotel, airline, rental car, etc.). Though most consumers still book through desktops or laptops, they use mobile devices throughout every stage of planning; they are particularly primed for travel inspiration during “snacking moments” when they’re killing time or doing other activities. Mobile optimization is critical. Brands must consider how consumers move between devices and channels to create a positive and engaging experience for travelers.


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